Controversial incidents prompt student outcry, administration response

The Cannon, repainted with Green Dot's original message, is pictured on April 2 after it was vandalized with pro-Trump slogans the night before. Courtesy Marley Hillman, Elise Sommers and Mauri Trimmer.

After a series of incidents across campus, including eggings and vandalism, stoked controversy among students, senior administration officials responded in a campus-wide email last Friday outlining their support for an accepting campus culture.

The incidents mentioned in the email, titled “Affirming our Values and Support for Students,” included a series of eggings that took place over the last weekend in March, pro-Trump slogans painted on the Cannon and the removal of Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) posters from the the Tisch Library steps.

Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon, Chief Diversity Officer Robert Mack and Executive Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity Jill Zellmer signed the email, which was sent out the evening of April 12.

The email comes in the wider context a number of identity-based incidents this year, including the posting of white supremacist flyers in November 2018 and the antisemitic flyering of Hillel in January.

According to Mark Keith, deputy chief of the Tufts University Police Department (TUPD), the first egging of a Tufts affiliate took place on the night of March 29, followed by another the next day and a third on the March 31.

Keith also said that TUPD had been informed second-hand of another possible egging of a non-Tufts affiliate that took place some time during the night of March 28 or the morning of March 29.

There may have been a second egging on Sunday, as a two groups of Tufts students wrote in separate Facebook posts that they were attacked on the afternoon of March 31 at different locations.

MJ Griego, a senior, wrote in a public post on Facebook shortly before 12:30 p.m. on March 31 that Griego and two friends had been at the Boston Avenue Dunkin’ Donuts when an individual driving a “dark grey/black SUV” threw an egg which hit one of their friends, who was not injured.

Griego noted in the post, as did the email from the administration, that March 31 was International Transgender Day of Visibility, and that their two friends are transgender. In a content warning for the post, Griego called the incident “anti-trans violence” and “transmisogyny.”

At 3:13 p.m. that same afternoon, Shaikat Islam, a sophomore, published a public Facebook post including photos of shattered eggs, in which he wrote he had been egged on Curtis Street in front the Muslim House at 3 p.m. and that he would be filing a police report.

Both Griego and Islam did not respond to multiple requests for interviews. The Daily was unable to verify the identities of the other individuals who reported to TUPD that they were attacked.

Keith said that after “four to five” days TUPD was able to identify a suspect in the eggings thanks to eyewitnesses. The TUPD investigation revealed no common background or identity between the targets or evidence concerning the motivation of the attack.

Mack said that he was not aware of any proof that the eggings were targeted based on identity.

“Is it possible that our students were attacked just out of time and location, yes. And is possible that they were targeted and it was a hate crime, yes, but there’s no way for me to know that,” he said.

After the suspect was identified, TUPD then filed for what is known as a “show-cause” hearing against the suspect in Somerville District Court which will occur on May 20, according to Keith. A “show-cause” hearing is carried out before a clerk magistrate to determine if there is sufficient probable cause to issue someone with a criminal charge.

As the suspects have yet to be charged pending the hearing, Keith declined to name the suspects.

The administration email claimed that TUPD had filed a complaint of assault against the suspects, which is not strictly correct. This was confirmed by review of relevant filings in the Somerville District Court by the Daily.

The Cannon, which had been painted in honor of those killed in the Great March of Return by SJP, was painted over with “TRUMP 2020” and “#MAGA” in large red letters on April 1, according to Marley Hillman, a member of Green Dot. The Daily was unable to confirm the identity of the perpetrator.

Members of Green Dot, an organization that focuses on building a safer community by working to prevent sexual assault on campus, painted over the political message with one in support of sexual assault survivors, according to its website. However, the Cannon was later defaced once again with messages in support of Trump.

“MAGA was painted in such a way that it was clear what they were covering up … what message they intended to stifle,” Hillman, a sophomore, said.

They criticized the university’s delayed response to the series of incidents.

“I think that it [email] came roughly 10 days too late,” Hillman said. “I feel that by bundling the three incidents, the Cannon painting, the eggings and the SJP posters getting ripped down, into one minimizes the importance of each incident and the severity of each of them individually.”

They also believe a culture of hostility against survivors remains at Tufts.

Mack defended the administration’s decision to respond to all of the incidents in one email.

“To name those in one email felt appropriate, it didn’t require separate email communication for each individual component,” he said.

In addition to the painting over of the Cannon, posters advertising events by SJP, the same student organization who had first painted the Cannon, were found ripped in half on the Tisch Library steps. Parker Breza, a member of SJP, said the incident was malicious.

“It was clear that they [posters] had been ripped intentionally because all the other posters which were put up at around the same time were perfectly intact and perfectly fine,” Breza, a senior, said.

SJP later put up new posters again in the same place and once again found that they had been torn and ripped off the wall.

“It was only three hours since the posters had been put up,” Breza said. “It was intentional because all of the other posters remained in the exact same spot clearly showing that it had been targeting Israeli apartheid week and Students for Justice in Palestine in particular.”

“It was particularly concerning that there was no mention of either Israel, Palestine or Students for Justice in Palestine in the email,” Breza said. “This shows us [SJP] that the administration doesn’t want to talk about Palestine and doesn’t stand up for all of its student members.”

In an email reviewed by the Daily, Kevin Kraft, director of community standards, told a member of SJP that the individual who tore the posters in the first incident had been identified and was a “person with no known Tufts affiliation who was participating in a campus tour.” The email further noted that TUPD was unable to identify the person who tore the posters the second time.

The senior administrators wrote that the motivation for the April 12 campus-wide email was to support the victims of the incidents and to restate Tufts’ values they felt that the incidents had violated.

“Our campus is a place that welcomes different viewpoints and creates opportunities to engage in constructive dialogue both in and out of the classroom. It is a place where students, faculty, and staff should be able to live, work, study, and thrive with respect and inclusion,” the email reads.

The email placed emphasis on the backgrounds and identities of the victims, though it did not call any of the incidents acts of hate.

Mack told the Daily that the response to this type of incident involves many parties and careful deliberation.

“We recognize that we’ve [had] to be very reactive as these things happen, and our goal now is to try to be more proactive,” he said.

Mack said that the coming addition of two full-time diversity and inclusion educators would help the university prevent such acts in the future, but he said he could not promise that it would be a perfect solution.


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